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The Holy Land
IMDB Rating: 6.6/10 from 239 votes
Release: 22 April 2001 (USA) /

The Holy Land

Genre: Drama
Director: Eitan Gorlin,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: A coming-of-age saga set against the tense backdrop of Arab-Israeli politics. Mendy is a young Rabbinical student whose mind is too full of curiosity about the world that exists outside the restrictions of Orthodox Judaism. Recognizing his distraction, Mendy's teacher suggests that he visit a prostitute to get it out of his system. But on a fateful night, when he meets Sacha, a captivating Russian expatriate, who works in a Tel Aviv bordello, his appetite for outside experience only grows stronger. Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Critic Reviews

i almost missed this gem of a movie. a number of critics have damned it with faint praise. fortunately, a lawyer friend of mine, Mike, had no particular interest in anything else currently showing. so, he agreed to see it with me, because it would count as "my pick" -- meaning that he would have the next pick.

"The Holy land" is a coming of age story. but the protagonist, Mendy, is not just any run-of-the-mill naif. he is a rabbinical student in Tel Aviv, and the scion of a line of ultra-orthodox rabbis. his family is wonderfully wholesome, while Mendy is unbearably horny. the head rabbi at his yeshiva, noting Mendy's inability to concentrate on his studies, cites a passage in the Talmud (while denying that he is advising it) that states that a young man who visits a professional female companion will come away more focused on his religious studies.

Mendy does not need to have his arm twisted. soon he finds a strip joint, goes in, meets the charming and beautiful Sasha, and falls in love with her. through Sasha he meets Mike, a larger than life character who owns a bar in Jerusalem where stock Arab and Jewish characters seamlessly mix in a sort of bizarre version of "Cheers".

it is a timeless story about the conflict in the soul of every young adult (who has a pulse) between the idealistic pull from above to transcend our human nature, and the tug from below to experience the pleasures of the flesh precisely at that point in life when we are most able to enjoy them. having been raised as an ultra-orthodox Jew, Mendy has grown up in a culture second to none in its seriousness about avoiding the distractions of the secular world. yet, as an intelligent and sensitive young man, Mendy can't help but be elated by seeing the maps in an atlas, to give just one example of how sheltered his life had been before then.

Oren Rehany deserves an Oscar for his performance as Mendy. he wordlessly conveys more emotion with the expressions on his face than most actors can deliver in a full blown soliloquy. Tchelet Semel, as Sasha, is not just "the girl". she's a fully developed character, with youth, beauty, and a mother back in Russia who needs money to pay for heat in the winter.

and, all of this takes place against the backdrop of Jerusalem -- site of the world's longest running battle for the soul of man. so, what's the catch? the catch is that you can't dramatize the conflict between the sacred and the profane if you leave out the profane. and, if you love Israel, you may feel uncomfortable with a film that spends so much time on the dark side of life there, especially the IDF's routine treatment of Palestinians. (who wouldn't be uncomfortable seeing the warts of one's beloved displayed on the big screen?) but, if you can get beyond that, this movie is well worth seeing.

oh, Mike was very grateful that i picked this movie ;-)

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